Court Gives Khieu Samphan Deadline to End Trial Boycott

The Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday gave Khieu Samphan an ultimatum: tell his lawyers to end their boycott of his trial, or judges will take steps to expedite proceedings, which could include appointing a new defense team.

Lawyers for Khieu Samphan did not attend a scheduled hearing Monday on the instructions of the regime’s former head of state, who says he wants them to focus on preparing an appeal against his guilty verdict in the first phase of the trial.

Substantive hearings in the second trial phase began on October 17, but were adjourned the same day after both Khieu Samphan and his co-accused, Nuon Chea, ordered their counsel to stage a walkout until procedural grievances were resolved.

However, Nuon Chea’s defense team was present in the courtroom Monday after his application to have four judges removed was heard, and subsequently dismissed.

Following a four-hour adjournment in Monday’s proceedings while the panel of judges considered how to address the ongoing stalemate, Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn presented Khieu Samphan with two alternatives—reverse the boycott by 4:30 p.m. today or the court “will take further steps it considers necessary to secure a fair and expeditious proceedings.”

Judge Nonn said these steps could include reappointing the current defense team as court-appointed counsel, which would remove their legal obligation to follow Khieu Samphan’s instructions not to participate; appointing new lawyers; implementing a combination of these two options; or taking “any other action the court may deem appropriate.”

The “misconduct” of the defense team, he said, would be the subject of a separate order.

“The chamber would like to remind you that while indeed you have the right to be assisted by the lawyer of your own choice, that right is not absolute,” Judge Nonn told the defendant.

“Rather, it is necessarily subject to certain limitations where the interests of justice so require.”

International co-prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian on Monday reiterated his team’s earlier call to appoint an amicus curiae, an independent lawyer who would represent the interests of the accused but not replace the defense team.

“[Its aim] was, rather, not to give the defendants control over the courtroom,” he said.

“In any court system around the world, accused persons cannot bring proceedings to a halt by saying ‘I don’t want my lawyer to come to court.’”

Hearings are scheduled to resume on November 24 after a weeklong adjournment.

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